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5 tips to help green executives become more resilient

Sustainability leaders will only deliver on their goals if they can sustain themselves. Here's how to stay at the top of your game.

This article first appeared at Business Green.

A concerned friend recently said to me, "you're no good to anyone else if you don't look after yourself." This was meant as friendly advice after getting back from travelling round the world in the space of 10 days to deliver on a variety of projects and talks focused on big system-level change — and I was perhaps a little tired!

It may be an old adage, but it made me revisit how important individual leadership is in this ongoing process of change that we are all engaged in — something that we don't always pay enough attention to.

At Forum for the Future, when we are working with our partners to lead shifts towards greater sustainability, we spend time considering what the future might hold, where the change levers are, different viewpoints and who the key stakeholders and powerbrokers are. But one of the most critical elements is "who." Who is actually going to lead a shift towards better sanitation or a low-carbon economy?

We need more leadership, for sure, and we also need to be sure to sustain our leaders. This starts with being certain that the individuals who are driving change are equipped with the skills, knowledge and resources they need. But almost as critical is resilience.

Being a Chief Sustainability Officer in a big corporation can be a lonely job. So can being a CEO of a new start up or pioneering a new technology that will change the world. Being a change agent is often about being disruptive, and it is time to pay more attention to our own strength, resilience and learning, which enables us to do that.

So, what does strengthening individual leaders mean? What do we do to guide us and maintain our resilience?

Firstly, be as authentic as possible. It is stressful trying to be something that you are not, and it does not build trust in others either. Authenticity is a key part of being a resilient leader.

Second, find ways to reflect and learn as you go along, as this builds skills and abilities, as well as resilience and relationships. In the words of author H. Jackson Brown Jr., "every person that you meet knows something you don't; learn from them."

Third, build a strong support network. OK, so I am starting to sound like a self-help manual, but having people you can trust who are grappling with the same challenges as you is really great.

Fourth, harness and quash the ego! We all want to be recognised for what we do and ambition is important in making things happen, but sometimes the drive for status can get in the way of what we are trying to do.

And finally, relax and have fun — in your work, with your teams. Sometimes you can even take a day off from saving the world. It might even make you better at it!

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